Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas (February 1, 2003)

Columbia_disaster_TimeMagazine February 1, 2003 was a gray and chilly Saturday and I was immersed in my winter project, which was a makeover of my apartment.  I did it with the help of my friend William.  I supplied ideas and the capital and he made it happen, which involved painting the bedroom Arctic Blue, California Gold in the living room and the kitchen Antique White; hanging artwork; assembling a glass TV stand for my new plasma TV and drilling decorative shelving into the living room walls.  We had just returned from breakfast when we heard the news on the radio about the disintegration of space shuttle Columbia.  It happened over the skies of Dallas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere - just 15 minutes before it was scheduled to land in Florida.  All seven astronauts on board were killed.  By eerie coincidence NASA's two previous fatal space accidents also occurred in the dead of winter: On Jan. 27, 1967 a fire on board Apollo 1 as it sat on the launching pad killed the three astronauts on board (pictured), and on Jan. 28, 1986 the Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, killing all seven crew members. 









Space Shuttle Challenger Explodes As Millions Watch (January 28, 1986)

Challenger_explodes The morning of Jan. 28, 1986, a Tuesday, was a cold one in New York, following a surprise 1.5" snowfall overnight.  I was back at work (ad agency Young & Rubicam) after having been out sick on Monday and the previous Friday.  Shortly before noon my secretary, Voula, came clomping into my office to deliver the day's mail and blurted out that the space shuttle had exploded.  Then she made a snide comment about the teacher, Christa McCauliffe, who was on board, let out a little cackle, and walked out.  I left my office and walked over to the office of a broadcast buyer to watch the unending replay of the shuttle's disintegration against the clear blue Florida sky.  What was chilling was the crowd reaction at the launch site because at first they didn't understand what they had just witnessed but as the realization came over them their excited gasps of wonder turned to sobs of distress.  




Crrazy_eddie This date also sticks in mind because after coming home from work I went to electronics store Crazy Eddie near my apartment in Greenwich Village and bought my first color TV - a 14" Sharp.  I paid $329 for it, at the time the largest single purchase I'd ever made.  I was really looking forward to watching that evening's episode of Moonlighting in color.




(The book Truth, Lies & O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster provides a detailed account of what led to the shuttle's tragic demise.)  



Marveling at History Through the Covers of TIME Magazine

Newsstand2When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house.  We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports.  Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone.  And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest.  And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look.  (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)


Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it).  Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published.  I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.  




In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations.  (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.)  Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg.  Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings.  Covers can be purchased through Time's website; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.






As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues.  Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes.  Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.






Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years.  However, some personalities slipped through the cracks.  For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover.  And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)




A number of handsome coffee table books are also available including 75 Years of TIME Magazine Cover Portraits and TIME: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Influential Magazine.  In closing, here are a handful of other classic covers:





Time_magazine_ ojsimpson






Man Walks on the Moon (July 20, 1969)




The morning of Apollo 11's lift-off on Wednesday, July 16, 1969 was bright and sunny in Pittsburgh.  My dad was on vacation that week and we went for haircuts in the morning and were back in time to see the rocket blast-off from Cape Kennedy at around 9:30.  By contrast, the weather on the day of the Moon landing four days later, a Sunday, was overcast and a bit showery.




It seemed that life was put on hold as most everyone was following the TV coverage of the lunar module's approach to the surface of the Moon.  (And since this was in the days before cable TV there was no counter-programming to switch to.)  The afternoon's baseball games kept fans apprised of the mission's progress.  I alternated my time between playing kickball out on the street and sitting in the living room sorting through my baseball card collection while listening for updates.  The anticipation was unlike any I had ever experienced - perhaps with the exception of waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus.





The lunar module settled on the Moon’s surface late in the afternoon at 4:17 ("Houston, the Eagle has landed"). Finally, at around 11PM, we watched the fuzzy black/white TV transmission as Neil Armstrong descended the Eagle's ladder and took his, and mankind's, first step on the moon.  A short time later he was joined by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin (the quintessential astronaut name) and together they planted the American flag into the lunar soil (further immortalized by an MTV promo 12 years later).  It looked like they were having fun as they sort of skipped and bounced around due to the Moon's lack of gravity.  This was a truly an awe-inspiring occasion that was a bit difficult for my 12-year-old brain to fully grasp. 




Many years later (in 2003) while vacationing in Iceland our tour bus drove through the barren central part of the island and my friend Tom and I remarked how it could pass for a moonscape.  Then our tour guide told us that, in fact, NASA had trained there for some of its Moon missions because of the similarity in landscape.




If your interest has been piqued, two worthwhile books that commemorated the 40th anniversary are One Giant Leap: Apollo 11 Remembered and  The Apollo 11 Moon Landing: 40th Anniversary.





Hale-Bopp Comet Puts On A Show (April 2, 1997)

Hale_bopp_hudsonriver_taconicparkway Hale-Bopp was one of the brightest comets to streak across the skies in the 20th century.  And unlike Kohoutek, a much hyped comet that turned out to be a big dud in the winter of 1974, H-B lived up to its hype.  A survey conducted by Sky & Telescope Magazine reported that 69% of Americans saw it during the winter and spring months of 1997.  (The photo to the right was taken in the lower Hudson River Valley).  




I Hale_bopp_triboro_bridge

I was thrilled to catch a glimpse of Hale-Bopp, especially since star gazing in Manhattan can be a frustrating experience due to the glare from the city's lights.  It was Wednesday evening on April 2 at around 7:30 and I was doing my thrice-weekly 5-mile jog along the Hudson River in lower Manhattan.  In the Battery Park City neighborhood I noticed a man pointing his telescope across the river in the direction of Jersey City.  I glanced over my shoulder and was stunned to see a slash of light not far above the horizon.  It seemed to be holding still in the sky and had the classic comet's tail.  I stopped running to gaze at it further and then detected a slight, jerky horizontal motion.  It was a very Zen moment.  (My sighting occurred one day after the comet's closest approach to the sun, aka "perihelion".) 



Heavens_gate_suicides A week before my sighting the comet figured prominently in a mass suicide carried out by members of a religious cult known as Heaven's Gate.  39 members, mostly young adults, and the cult's elderly leader Do (pronounced "doe") committed the act in a rented mansion in an affluent suburb of San Diego.  A videotape made shortly before the suicides indicated that a spaceship following behind H-B would pick up their souls.  It was done in a very orderly manner and the victims were dressed in a similar fashion, which included wearing the identical Nike sneakers. 


RSCN1794 This was also an interesting time in my life (perhaps the comet had something to do with it).  With my 40th birthday looming in May an ex-boyfriend from 10 years earlier reappeared.  "David the Israeli", as I referred to him, was now living in Chicago (not far from Wrigley Field) and suggested I consider moving there as well.  (I attached "the Israeli" to his name because there was a multitude of Davids in my life at the time, i.e. my roommate, boss and a number of co-workers, so to avoid confusion they each had their own descriptor.)  At the last minute he joined me and my friend Tom when we went to San Francisco on vacation in March.  (That's me with David on Lombard St.  I'm the tall one.)  Then at the end of April I visited him in Chicago (my first time there). 


It was a whirlwind six weeks but, alas, it didn't work out this time either as the same dispiriting patterns re-emerged (his, of course).  And no appearance from a comet was going to magically change him.  Speaking of comets, if you'd like to learn even more about them the book The Greatest Comets talks about famous ones through history.